Can you give a brief history of your playing career?
I played in goal for Leeds from the age of 8 up until I was 21, so I left two years ago now. It was a second home for me. The coach at under 11s and under 12s ended up being the Academy manager at Leeds, and he was someone who I got along really well with. There were so many members of staff who were also at the club throughout my journey and it really gave the club a close community feel. In that time, I also played in goal for England U16s up to the U20s. I made my debut when I was twenty for Leeds against Bristol City in the Championship, which was pretty cool. After leaving Leeds at 21 I went to Bradford Park Ave in the Conference North and was there for a couple months, then I was moved to Bradford City in League Two and was there until this summer. In the last three or four years. I’ve had a lot of wrist trouble. Obviously, being a goalie that’s not ideal. I finally had surgery in May. It worked, but also sort of didn’t work. So, at the moment I can just about play maybe once or twice a week. Any more than that and it’s just too painful. So now I play for Burgess Hill town in Sussex.
What would you say is your biggest achievement during that time?
I’d probably choose my championship debut for Leeds, that was amazing. There was 34,000 people there, it was a big moment at Elland road. When you’re growing up, playing for Leeds at the end is the goal, so it was pretty cool to start, and we won 2-0 actually! After that game I had the next eight or ten games on the bench for the first team, an experience I’ll never forget either!
Are there any stand-out memories from your academy days?
I can’t think of any in terms of actual games, but what was great was just hanging out with your mates all the time. I left school at 16, so from 16 to 18 it was basically just us academy boys. So, the lads I’ve grown up with since I was eight or nine, we were together every day playing football and we just we messed around and had so much fun! It was absolutely carnage because I went to private school as well, so I went from really regimented well-behaved classrooms to food fights. It was a great time.
You mentioned there was the coach that guided you at U11s/12s all the way through to academy level, were there any other influential people from your time as a pro that you’re grateful to?
There’re loads. In terms of influence, it probably lies predominantly with goalie coaches, because whilst team coaches have influence on how we play and whether I play, day-in, day-out you are working with a goalie coach, and having a good relationship with them makes such a big difference. The goalie coach that signed me at Leeds is the first team goalkeeper coach at Liverpool now, and he was involved in the England set up. There’s been so many, and wherever I have been the goalie coaches been absolutely top class. I mean, everyone’s got different styles when it when it comes to goalie coaching and it’s not a one-size-fits-all job, and everyone can offer different bits of knowledge. Neil Sullivan coached me for four years at Leeds, and he’s played 600 games, some for Leeds and in the Premiership, and I think he has had a huge influence on my demeanor and how I play. Growing up there was also Ian Wilcox, only for a couple of seasons when I was 10 or 11 but he is now the Man Utd women’s goalie coach. Lee Kelsey was class as well, and so was Marcus Abad, who is now the Leed’s first team goalkeeper coach. From a mental standpoint I learnt a lot from all my coaches, whilst having the coaches in the England set up as well.
You mention the mental aspect, resilience is one of the key features of trying to be a professional goalkeeper. Do you think that has helped you when thinking about a career off the pitch?
Absolutely. As a goalkeeper, you care of course but you have to ignore people’s opinions and remember they are ultimately irrelevant, especially after an error. I don’t think that resilience fades either, but the less you care, while still caring, I suppose the more resilient you are? Its hard to explain! When I was a scholar, I dropped out of the England set up because I was pretty poor for a couple of years, I was not very good. We had a new coach come in at Leeds for the U23s, who is now the Huddersfield manager, Carlos Corberan, and he instilled a “play without fear” mentality, so if you make a mistake, it essentially does not matter. I got myself back in the England set up, and the coach there asked me, ‘what has changed? How are you now playing so well now?’ It was because of that mentality. You have to learn from the error, rather than dwell on it. And you cannot take yourself too seriously either. If you make a mistake, you should be able to smile about it after the game and admit to your teammates that you know where you went wrong. You cannot take it to heart, because if you fixate over the errors and the negatives, you will find yourself in a bad place. And I think that’s the same with anything, be it football or recruitment or any job. As a goalkeeper, you have to bounce back or you will be left behind very quickly.
At what point in your career did you start thinking about doing football and something else?
I was injured for about 18 months to two years, and in that time, I was starting to think about what I might fancy doing, but I didn’t think about it too seriously. I remember I was in the physio room in Leeds and I had been injured for about a year at that point. I had a lot of wrist trouble and also tore my psoas in my hip, which took me 8 months to get over. During that time even putting my shoes and socks on was a nightmare, or getting in the car, and neither injury seemed to be getting much better. It had a massive impact on me personally, I don’t think I was great to be around at the time. At one point I was chatting to the club doctor, who asked if I’d starting thinking about what I might end up doing. With my wrist, I had steroid injections and would then be fine for three or four months, but it would then flare up again and I would be out for a month and a half once more. It was a realistic chat with the doctor, because who is going to take a goalie who is only fit for half of the year? That was the first time it got brought up to me, which was really difficult. No one had said anything like that to me before. The physios and specialists were confident that because I was young, they would figure out what was wrong with me, but the doctor was the first to suggest that perhaps the issues would not go away. I left the room afterwards and took myself home. That was around Christmas before the pandemic, and then during COVID I had a lot of time away from the club, which was the best thing for me at that point. I’d been looking at the same four walls for 18 months due to the injuries and it was really tough. So to get time away and have a bit of freedom was nice.
That summer, my contract was up at Leeds. I got released and was sort of running out of options. After a couple more injections I went to play at Bradford Park Avenue, and got the move to Bradford City after 6 months. I thought to myself that as long as I am fit, I was happy, but, as it happens, I got injured again and had surgery in the summer. It was at that point I started to think that if this will keep happening, do I actually want to do it because, for my own well-being, if I’m constantly in pain and in the physio room, not enjoying what I am doing, it just is not sustainable. After two months in physio at Bradford, nothing in me wanted to keep doing the rehab for months on end multiple times, when it wasn’t working. I started thinking then, what are the options for me. I had surgery which wasn’t guaranteed success, but got myself in a position where I could play part-time, training a couple times a week with a match on Saturday. I was in a lot of pain but got myself through. I played for Stalybridge Celtic for three or four weeks, and was in a bit of pain, better than before the surgery but not good enough to play full time. All the lads there had full time jobs, and I had a lot of conversations with my dad, chatting about what I would go into, how I would do it. I knew at that point that it was not sustainable with my wrist. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to knock about in the lower leagues consistently injured until I was 30. That’s what pushed me to get a job, and I love London as well which was a big draw. I still had not heard about Hansen Filler or TTP at this point.
So how did you come to find out about Hansen Filler/TTP?
I had been at training one evening, and thought, why not apply for a few jobs and see what happens. I didn’t think much would really come of it, but I got a call from one of the athlete relationship managers at TTP who said that he had seen my profile and wondered if I wanted to chat for 20 minutes. I spoke with Hansen Filler the next day, and did a bit of research of my own, and it seemed like the culture of the business would be a really great fit. As the process went on, I wanted the role more and more, and got a bit more serious about it. I came down a couple weeks later to meet everyone for lunch and a drink, and the culture was great. Recruitment is fast paced, targets based and it’s a really good way to get into the working world. The last thing I wanted to do was go to a job, sit at the desk and become another cog in the wheel. I have been here for about a month and a half now, and I’m loving it. The people have been fantastic. My role is as a resourcer at the moment. Ultimately the working environment has to be good, because you have to get out of bed 5 days a week and go to work, so it has be something you enjoy. Of course you will have bad days, even in your dream job, but on the whole if you have a good experience you are going the right way.
Have you had any difficulties in your early career after transitioning?
I have not had any major issues. Its challenging learning the job but I’ve really enjoyed it. The only difficulty I’d say is that I am actually still studying for university as well. I am trying to balance work, university, football and a social life, which can be a bit tough! Uni finishes in June so it will be fine. I actually started my degree whilst I was still at Leeds as a second-year pro, meaning I was about 19. I was at a hotel in pre-season and the manager would have us train in the morning before returning to a hotel nearby, and rest, before going back to train in the evening. I wanted to do something a bit more productive with my time, and I hadn’t done anything the year before. At Leeds we would be in the training ground for about 9 o’clock. We would have breakfast and train, but most days I got home for about 2 or 2.30. I knew I could be more productive and stretch myself, so I started a history course with the Open University. It was the perfect fit for me because its completely remote and so you don’t have to attend lectures in person. It was definitely a good decision to do the degree, not only for the skills but for something to do, even if it is a lot of reading.
It is definitely difficult balancing everything, but have Hansen Filler been understanding of that?
They have been fantastic. For training at Burgess Hill, I have to leave a bit early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which they are great about. I was open during my interview that I still wanted to play football, which they were in favour of.
Resilience was one of the skills you mentioned from your sporting career that helps you out a lot now. Are there any other skills you would highlight that are valuable in your work?
I think that being able to get on and work with different people and chat to people is helped by coming from a sporting background. You get a broad range of ages, such as your manager and older players in a squad, so being able to talk to a whole range of people is really important. Especially in my job, I am on the phone quite a lot so being able to build relationships is quite important. If you can find common ground with someone who it initially appears doesn’t have much in common with you, that is really helpful. I played at a number of different teams, so meeting new people and going into a team environment where I don’t know anyone is not a problem. That’s definitely a big positive. You need to be able to hold your own, give and take a little bit of banter too!
For someone in a similar position to you, thinking about dual-careering and playing semi-pro sport, what advice would you give to them?
I would say there is no harm in chatting to someone, because it does not get spoken about enough. At Leeds, we had workshops with people asking if we had a plan B, but a lot of players weren’t interested in listening. When people came in and spoke to us scholars or young pros who were around 19 or 20, we never thought that it was going to be us who would have to stop playing. I took the workshops a bit more seriously when I was injured, because I started to think that it might actually be me. As a young lad, it is worth chatting to someone about it, because it doesn’t get spoken about enough amongst the younger players. Older professionals speak about it a lot, because they know what the reality is, they might not have many seasons left. Even if you have made enough money to never work again, if you retire young you have around 50 years to find something to do! That’s the most important thing, speaking about it as a young lad. There’s no harm. There is actually a bit of stigma about getting released or not finding a new club, so it’s important to speak openly about it because everyone has been in that position before. Someone will have some good advice or a different opinion, and you my take some good things away from it. If you were to speak to TTP, even if nothing was to come of it and you weren’t considering a role away from your sport, its worth chatting just to get an idea of what’s out there.